31 January 2007

If I had a sugar daddy...

Polka-dot coat dress by Paul & Joe

$643 at shopbop.com

Since I don't (yet)

Belted bow-front overcoat by Lux

London-fierce is fine with me

Surprisingly, I don't hate this look. I think it's amusing.

She certainly has the body for the tights-n-bloomers look, and you know what, London style is so different from anything I'm familiar with that I almost feel uncomfortable commenting on it. I don't really get it, but I know what I like, and I like this girl's confidence -- and her eye-makeup.

It's official, her invitation to join my girl-crush club - membership: Monica Bellucci, Jessica Biel, and Scarlett Johansson - is in the mail.

An advertisement for eye-cream refrigeration

You really think Marcus would have bought C and me that perfectly not-too-sweet chocolate mousse and our three rounds of Shiraz and Heineken Light if we had even a hint of eye-wrinklage?

The answer is yes, but you should refrigerate your eye-cream, anyway.

Poor execution (pt. II)

The best brown-black success stories I've seen have all been either weekend casual or casual evening looks. You can disagree with me and go ahead and wear that black cocktail dress with brown waist cinch and brown D'orsays. You won't necessarily be wrong for putting those pieces together, but my view is, wouldn't you prefer to wear something prettier? Something more interesting? Something less Chloe Sevigny?

First, some operational definitions:

Brown: dark, chocolate brown -- we already know and love the camel-black/khaki-black color combinations

Weekend casual: the clothes you'd wear to brunch at the Beacon Hotel on a Saturday afternoon (example: skinny jeans, ballet flats, t-shirt, turtleneck, short trench)

Casual evening: the clothes you'd wear for first night drinks at Le Bar in the Sofitel with that good-looking, often shirtless Naval aviator with whom you've often exchanged mid-run smiles during your late-night workouts in the gym

Brown-black outfit: an outfit made up of discrete black or discrete brown articles of clothing -- this does not include prints like the paisley one pictured above right ($165 at Tahir Boutique) or the leopard one pictured at left ($1,095 at bergdorfgoodman.com).

I would also like to reiterate that this piece, more than any of the others I've written, is an opinion piece. My views on the brown-black are still very nascent and have changed so much in the past five months that I'm willing to accept five months from now I'll be proudly wearing that evening ensemble I just pooh-poohed a few sentences previous.

I think the following Guns N' Roses lyric captures my view aptly and succinctly:

'Cause nothin' lasts forever, and we both know hearts can change.

On with the analysis.

The casual outfits on which I have received the most "I love what you're wearing" compliments have been those thrown-together weekend looks that more by chance than intention include both brown and black components. These outfits are also not exclusively brown and black; I like to throw in a couple of other neutrals to liven up but not overwhelm my lazy Saturday afternoons. Good choices include but are not limited to matte silver flats, a dark wash jean, a pumpkin hoodie, a wine cap-sleeved frilly mock-neck, or an oatmeal Dolman-sleeved tunic (pictured at right, $200.20 at shopbop.com).

The only objectively wrong way to rock this look is to throw a bright color into the mix. Brown-black outfits - even those that are not exclusively brown and black - are neutral and should stay neutral. Adding a red belt, a yellow daybag, or even a bold-printed skinny headband would have the same end result as the heavy girl at the pool party: distracting to the point where no one has any fun.

The first of three self-imposed rules I have for the brown-black ensemble is not to have any brown touching black, and by that I mean inserting at least one other neutral color in between my brown and black pieces. If I wear my black loose-knit cropped angora turtleneck, I don't wear my mocha-colored Charlotte tee underneath; if I wear my dark brown scalloped-neck, scalloped-hem, cap-sleeved button-up, I don't pair it with black skinny jeans; and if I wear my opaque black tights, I don't wear my brown leather flats or my brown tweed mini.

If someone as hookup-worthy as Mandy Moore can't make it work, you and I don't need to try.

The second rule I have for brown-black outfits is to remain color-consistent (i.e. brown-brown or black-black) with my below-the-belt garment and my shoes. When I see women stray from this rule, it's almost always the case that their overall look comes off unsophisticated -- accidental, if you will. If you look at Christina Ricci (pictured at left), she wears a brown waist-cinch but keeps it consistent with black tights and black almond-toed pumps. This is how it's done. The Marni coat certainly doesn't hurt, either.

The third brown-black outfit rule by which I abide is to wear no more than two pieces of black and two piece of brown at a time, preferably no more than one primary piece (i.e. top, bottom, shoes, bag) and one background piece (i.e. headband, earrings, partially-hidden tee). If you exceed the advised two piece limit, please do so in an either/or fashion. Don't up the ante for black just because you felt like wearing an extra brown accessory -- tip the balance in favor of one or the other, or you risk looking like, as I said earlier, a home-schooler.

The intern at the conservative think-tank who inspired this posting broke both my first and second rules, and in my opinion, paid a real style price for her gambles. Considering where she works and their views on Cross Strait relations - and on Mainland China, in general - her brown-black misstep is the least of her concerns.

Poor execution (pt. I)

I've only very recently begun to feel comfortable with the brown-black color combination.

And even now, five months in, I still only allow myself small risks like carrying a black daybag with brown leather ballet flats, or wearing garnet studs with a black wrap dress. I see other women - L, for example, is a master-ess at this concept - and they look fabulous with their brown opaque tights and black Mary Janes, but for me, I just can't; the feeling I get when I mix large pieces like a blouse, skirt, overcoat or trousers using two very strong base colors like brown and black is one of real, unshakable discomfort.

Today, at a Cross Straits security panel discussion at a very conservative Capitol Hill think-tank, I experienced another kind of discomfort -- the kind where I see a poor girl trying hard to emulate the Mandy-Moore-at-Sundance look and coming about as close as "Derailed" did for launching Jennifer Aniston's career as a taken-seriously dramatic actress.

Standing flush up against the wall, she was wearing a very cute high v-necked black dress that had a full waist-to-hem pleated tea-length skirt. Atop that was an ivory rollneck cardigan, the kind I often refer to as a "grading sweater," because it reminds me of the style my father always wears when he sits down to hundreds of exams each semester.

Ivory cardigan, black dress, so far, everything looked really nice. Then I got to her shoes.

She definitely earned a point for wearing three-plus-inchers, but I deducted it when I noticed the overly severe witch-point, and once I put on my glasses to see in more detail their color, I deducted seven more for her choice of pairing sheer black hose with brown faux snakeskin. I know this is going to be a controversial post, because some women live and die by the brown-black marriage, but I have my limits, I have my opinions, and I have my rules about how it should be executed.

For the record, I thought Mandy Moore looked like a home-schooler in this getup, and by that I mean untainted by the cruel, cruel tauntings of uppity bitches who haven't yet learned it's not right to judge a person based on their size or style.

More after work...

Full-circle in the final round

Tuesday night Happy Hours are never supposed to last until midnight.

But combine a good hair day, some cute patterned tights, two young professional women with inviting smiles, a generous just-pay-for-the-first-two bartender, and you've got yourself an early in the week party.

And a very cross, left-at-home puppy.

Once C, her fedora and I left our newfound behind-the-bar friend Marcus at Panache after a good three hours, we headed across the street to the Mayflower for a last drink among fifteen or so septuagenarians and their vastly younger, curiously unattractive and seasoned-looking companions.

Nursing my last inch of Bud Lite (yes, the Mayflower has Bud Lite on-tap), and just as we were about to leave, I left C to tackle solo the questions the neighboring couch full of USG "dudes having a dudes night out" were peppering at us on stimulating topics like the status-quo on Hurricane Katrina clean-up and NBA playoff predictions so I could take a trip to the ladies' room.

It was there, in front of the second gold-framed mirror on the left that I saw her. In a cropped red satin slight Mandarin-collared jacket, black wide-legged trousers, and the black velvet bow-adorned Marc Jacobs peeptoes, was one of the most well-dressed women I've ever seen in this city. "Wow, I love your jacket," I blurted out while touching up my black liner six sinks and a trash can away from her. "Would you mind telling me where you got it?"

"Actually, I just picked this up on a trip I took to Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur, I think. It was a local boutique. You like it? All my DC friends told me I looked like Michael Jackson."


No matter what her friends thought, this woman was one of only a handful I've ever seen who really understood the concept of subtly and stylishly integrating an ethnic piece into an ensemble (see "Can't you be happy with a jade paperweight?" for context). When you looked at her, you knew something about her look was different. Not bad different - not at all - just different. The kind of different that makes women stop their makeup routines in hotel bathrooms not to ask her where she just vacationed but rather to ask her where they could pick up a jacket just like hers.

Sometimes, in the last round on a Tuesday night, everything comes full-circle.

30 January 2007

If I had a sugar daddy...

Hampton Milleis watch by Baume & Mercier

$1,608.95 at jomashop.com

Since I don't (yet)

Gold tone mesh band watch by Skagen

$65 at amazon.com

Can't you be happy with a jade paperweight?

Why do people feel the need to integrate into their wardrobes - their professional wardrobes - wearable mementos from their "life-changing" week and a half in Mumbai, Bangkok, or any of the other resort towns where middle-aged, middle-income DC folk go to escape the Beltway traffic?

Another curious faction includes those individuals who over many years have developed a deep bond with a country - China, for example - and who demonstrates their cadre-ly love by more than occasionally donning shapeless silk Mandarin-collared Mao jackets with dragon and/or tiger embroidery. I'm not saying these people don't have a deeper understanding of the Chinese culture, in many cases they do, but what I am saying is that it's possible to fondly remember the many friends you made and the memories of the $.05 bottles of Tsingtao you drank without wearing a traditional qipao - or an interpretation thereof - to work.

As insufferable as the thuggish adolescents are who hang out in mall parking lots (and Sign of the Whale on Sunday afternoons) wearing t-shirts emblazoned with Chinese characters that read "sweet kitten" or "tranquil banana," at least they're not flaunting a pretentious look-where-I've-been attitude.

This grown up version of the middle school game, "aren't you jealous of my Jamaican braids?" needs to stop. If you want to incorporate a souvenir from your in-country travels into your look, try subtle touches like a scarf or pair of earrings or that skin-whitening cream that sells like mooncakes all over Asia.

Falling in love with an outfit easier than with a friend

I've heard of couples who say they found romance after years of platonic friendship - suddenly something just "clicked" - but to be honest, I've never subscribed to the whole friends-cum-lovers relationship progression. For me, it's either there in the first 10 minutes (or sooner) or it isn't.

And by "it's" I mean that palpable, mutual lightning attraction of the mind, body, and sense of humor -- the kind of connection perfectly captured between Jennifer Lopez and George Clooney in "Out of Sight" and even though they didn't give into it on-screen, Scarlett and Bill in "Lost in Translation."

For love, I require instant, comprehensive, make-me-laugh-out-loud, but for clothing, I tend to be more lenient, more patient. By no means is patience tantamount to settling, it's more like a willingness to wait and see if one day I'll see it in a new light when it's paired with a great metallic jacket or lampshade skirt.

To facilitate these revelations, my closet is organized by color. Within each of the rainbow-order sections, there are three sub-sections: one for work, one for play, and one for evening.

For the most part, the lines between work and play, play and evening, and work and evening are immutable. Because I love my gold cocktail dress in a different way than I love my gray heather dress slacks in a different way than I love my two cropped, mod bell-coats, I tend not to co-mingle them.

On a morning like this morning, however, when I'm standing before my closet completely incapable of crafting an outfit from among the many pieces in my professional wardrobe that both fit my mood (today it's Rachel-Bilson-goes-to-work) and whatever complex I might have (today it's I-should've-done-more-situps-last-night), my eye starts to wander to the forbidden sections.

It's in these rare moments of open-mindedness I find myself falling in love with an outfit made up of pieces from my professional section (black matte jersey skirt, fitted sleeveless black fringe-collared top and black suede peeptoes), my play section (red Peter Pan collared cropped jacket and patterned opaque tights) and even a touch from my evening section (drop opal earrings). In permutations of two or even three, the resultant chemistry measures about as highly on my lust scale as that smug lobbyist who followed me into the elevator off the street last August. Taken in totality, however, and this six-piece ensemble elevates to the you-know-who-you-are level.

Even though my mind is made up when it comes to my love life - lightning or nothing - at least I still show signs of tolerant promise in my relationship with clothing.

29 January 2007

Sorry, I just can't get enough of this one


(click on the photo to see how detailed the beading is -- it's worth it)

If I had a sugar daddy...

Torreador Tulip Silk Top by Nanette Lepore

$335 at eluxury.com

Since I don't (yet)

Charm school tunic by Chulo Pony

When looking put-together should not be a priority

On my way home tonight, I peeked into the window of the ConnAve Washington Sports Club and realized something: women in DC care more about how they look at the gym than how they look at the office.

I should preface this post by saying I have long been that girl who prefers exercising in a gym to exercising outside.

But just because I like veritable proof of my total calories burned and I need to be running in front of an MSNBC prison documentary on my own cable-ready flat-screen TV doesn't mean I'm one of those women who mounts the elliptical with the most recent issue of Vogue under one arm, her cell phone, iPod and Palm Pilot under the other and draped headband-to-toe in perfectly complementary, fade-free gray, mint and white Stella McCartney-for-Adidas exercise separates.

After choosing resistance level one, incline level zero, and answering another non-emergency phone call (subjecting the entire gym to their whatever-song-is-number-one-on-Billboard ringtone), these women do their requisite 30 minutes and manage to finish without sacrificing more than three, maybe four beads of sweat. All the while, making those of us who actually want to use the machines in a semi-athletic manner, sit and wait and grow enraged over their why-bother attempts at cardiovascular exercise.

Your time at the gym is not for socializing and not for color coordination but rather for trying to drop your 9-minute mile to an 8:40-minute mile.

Instead of boutique Lacoste workout shorts, go to your university store (most have online equivalents) and pay $12 for a pair with your school's name emblazoned on the bottom. Instead of an Under Armour tank, throw on your Nader-for-President t-shirt with the permanently stained armpits and pulled seams you got at the Green rally sophomore year. And most important of all, instead of blowing $160 on the gold and silver Nike Air Max 360 IIs just because you saw Jessica Alba "work out" in them in last week's In Touch Weekly, go to a proper running store and have their experts evaluate and advise you on the best shoe for your foot and for your workout routine.

And then, with all the money you've saved, replace your pleated, too-short Banana Republic trousers with that perfect Theory pair you've been eying all season at Saksfifthavenue.com.

As promised

It took me an hour and a half last night, an hour this morning, and all of my lunch break today to find it, but here is the Internet's (seemingly) only picture of the back of Cate's beautiful Armani Privé dress from the SAG Awards.

The elongated pleats, which are not mirrored in front, are another reason to admire her vintage choice from this vantage point. Though her heels are a bit more upscale than what you might see on Jessica at Camelot, I still think they take away from the ensemble's overall classiness.

I think I speak for everyone with an ounce of taste, though, when I say I'm just thankful Cate didn't go the Heather Graham-route (see below).

These shoes probably set her back her last thousand dollars, which is sad, but also unwise given her current career trajectory -- wouldn't it have just been easier for her to arrive naked holding up a piece of paper that reads, "Generic blond with lopsided boobs willing to play any role Tara Reid turns down"?

The power of the cupcake suitcase

I wear cute clothes, carefully apply my eyeliner, and have the self-important strut down like a pro, yet nothing - not even my 4-inch black satin round-toed pumps - garners me more "how you doin'?" eyes on my way to work than my cupcake suitcase.

I'm not sure if it's the mini-desserts that entrances men, or the intrigue that a professional woman would be carrying such a blatant Soccer Mom accessory. Maybe a little of both.

And maybe I like it that way.

28 January 2007

Best dress at the SAG Awards -- Cate Blanchett

I'll post a picture of the back of this dress tomorrow, because it is the stunning asymmetrical architecture of the back cutouts that serves as the real star and the centerpiece of this fluid-as-water gold-lamé v-neck vintage Armani Privé column dress.

I quite liked her black lace Alexander McQueen frock at the Golden Globes, but most critics didn't -- this dress will for sure redeem her as one of the most fashion forward actresses working today.

If I had a sugar daddy...

Corset dress by Catherine Malandrino
$425 at saks.com

Since I don't (yet)

Empire waist jersey dress by Kay Unger
$182.90 at saks.com

How would it look?

If I could put together my ideal face, it would have Scarlett's eyes, Angie's nose and cheekbones, and Jessica Biel's forehead and hairline.

Okay fine, I sneaked my lips in there, but it was only because the readership demanded it!

Yes, it is a complete coincidence that the three celebrities featured here are the only three to have been dubbed "the Sexiest Woman Alive" by Esquire Magazine.

And yes, my lips are humbled in their forehead's, eyes' and nose's presence.

If he can't sell it, no one can

Lancôme just announced the new face of its men's line...


More men wearing eye cream

Come hither eyes

Perfectly applied eye makeup does not alone a sultry sex kitten make.

Behind the kohl and liquid eyeliner has to be an even-if-you-weren't-here-I'd-still-be-getting-this-lapdance attitude. Not sure how to inculcate losing your inhibitions and believing in your inner fierceness, but at the very least I can offer some tips on how to achieve the look of a temptress.

First, as always, make sure you have moisturized upper and lower eye-areas. If you feel the least bit dry or you had a bad break-up lunch and cried off that morning's first coat, apply a second before heading out. The overall look for a smoky eye should be dewy, not flaky.

The second step is to apply a small amount of what I often refer to as the most ridiculous but necessary product in a girl's makeup routine -- Laura Mercier's "Eye Basics" ($22 at saks.com). Essentially foundation for your eyelids, Eye Basics will camouflage discoloration, smooth out fine lines, and most important, cling to your liner and shadow all day long. The difference between using and not using this product is about four to five touch-ups. It's that effective.

Next in the routine is my makes-the-biggest-difference-on-Friday-mornings product -- the godsend otherwise known as under-eye concealer. Make sure to spread the concealer not just directly beneath your eye but into the lower half of the dark-circle as well.

Following this, you're ready for your base shadow, the exact shade of which depends on how classy or edgy you want to look. Either way, your base is always going to be a neutral like ivory, iridescent gold, or taupe. Using either your finger or a brush, spread the base shadow generously over the entire upper lid, even up into the bone just below the brows. I usually like to wait a few minutes before building my second layer, but that's primarily because I like to use cream shadows (try Bourjois Intensely Luminous Waterproof Cream Eyeshadow, $13.50 at sephora.com), and they, unlike their powder counterparts, tend to muck up the tips of liner pencils if not given enough time to dry.

Once the base shadow is set and uniformly distributed across the lids, choose your contrast shadow. In the picture above, Scarlett - or Scarlett's makeup artist - went for a very traditional matte pewter color like MAC's "Smut" ($14 at maccosmetics.com). Using a relatively stiff small-to-medium sized eyeshadow brush (I like Stila's #20 Eye Enhancer brush, $32 at sephora.com) apply the contrast shadow from the edge of the eyelid up to the crease in a half-moon-like fashion. Be careful and be symmetrical when doing this; if you go a bit too high on one side, dip a Q-tip in eye makeup remover and correct the error before continuing.
If you're after an edgier look like Scarlett's, try a shimmery bronze or gold trim atop the contrast shadow, and blend as naturally as possible. You don't want the layers to look like parfait but you also don't want them blended to the point where you can't see any transitioning. It takes practice, but you'll know when you've achieved just the right look. If you want a more traditional smoky eye, skip the trim and go straight for the black eyeliner.

With eyeliner, I tend to favor a pencil over a liquid pen, simply because I like the more deconstructed, just did-it-in-the-men's-room look. The precision of a liquid pen is more appropriate for company holiday parties and events where most of the women attending are married and wearing Chico's dress separates. My current pencil of choice is Maybelline's Unstoppable Liner in "Onyx" ($5.69 at drugstores everywhere).

I like to start in the outer corners and move inward, but I've seen professionals do it both ways. It's a personal choice for how thick a liner swipe you want, but there should always be a diminuendo trend - thicker to thinner - from the outer to inner eye. After drawing a satisfactory line, use a small makeup sponge to lightly smudge the thicker part of the line. Make sure the line is still a visibly separate entity, however. If you've over-smudged (it happens), tissue a bit of the excess liner away and start again.

Applying liner to the lower half is where most mistakes are made and the point at which most women get discouraged with the sultry eye and give up. Not getting close enough to the edge is the most common misstep, and that is why I advocate switching to a liquid pencil (MAC's Liquid Eyeliner in "Boot Black," $15 at maccosmetics.com) on bottom to minimize the likelihood of this happening. If you want to smudge, however, you'll have to suck it up with a mechanical pencil and do the best you can. Regardless of the line you drew on your upper lid, go fairly thin on bottom, or you risk creating a Courtney Love/raccoon look.

The last step before mascara is to dab a bit of shimmery shadow (I like Cover Girl's "Meringue Blush," $2.79 at drugstores everywhere) along the inner caverns of your eyes. Do this with your finger, not a brush, so that the oil from your skin will help glide the sparkles more evenly and more naturally.

And finally, mascara. I'm assuming if you're reading this blog, you don't need any tips on mascara application, so all I'm going to say is curl your lashes as high as they'll go and paint them with a clean, clump-free double-coat.

Happy smoldering!

27 January 2007

The best celebrity perk

Having a makeup artist at my 24-hour disposal comes thisclose to trumping free couture clothing and my-job-depends-on-it pressure to stay thin as the celebrity perk I covet most.

Every morning when I'm getting ready for work and on the occasional evening when I'm getting ready to go out, I have a celebrity muse from whom I shamelessly steal one of their recent looks. My desired end result depends on three variables: season (i.e. how tan I am), the outfit I'm wearing, and most influential of all, my mood. I should qualify that statement, however, by saying that on the not infrequent weekday mornings when I have I-feel-sultry moments, I do have the good judgment not to fasten on my false Shu Uemura lashes and apply my NARS lip stain and head to work.

No, on those days, I tend to get my fix with the nude leather 4.25-inchers.

For day and evening makeup. my routines are relatively the same. All I need to go from the office to peach Bellinis at Spezie is a black eyeliner pencil, a second coat of waterproof mascara, another dab or two of silver shimmer shadow in the corners of my eyes, and depending on the company I'm about to keep, another three spritzes of Fresh Sake (meeting a friend) or Dior Miss Dior (meeting a "friend").

Below are some of the lovely looks I have tried to reproduce in the past.

Day Makeup:
Top to bottom:
1. Jessica Biel
2. Anne Hathaway
3. Rachel Bilson*
4. Scarlett Johannsson
5. Sienna Miller
*most resembles my day look

Evening Makeup

Top to bottom:

1. Jennifer Lopez

2. Angelina Jolie

3. Scarlett Johannsson

4. Sienna Miller*

5. Sienna Miller

*most resembles my evening look